The Cars That Money Can’t Buy – BMW E1

Sun 19th May 2019

Sometimes your wallet won’t stretch to purchasing your dream motor. But don’t worry too much, there are some cars that even the biggest bank balances can’t buy, the dream cars that will forever remain a dream. These are the concept cars that never go into production.

In a real ‘sliding doors’ moment of the global motoring industry, there possibly exists an alternative universe where the BMW Group never bought the Rover Group and with it the Mini in the 1990s. In that alternative universe, the German manufacturer is heralded for bringing forth the electric vehicle revolution of the 1990s, with sales of a compact E1 capable of reaching a top speed of 75mph and achieving a fully electric range of 124 miles, the E1 would dominate the small car market for decades to come.

Alas that future never came to be. Though BMW did create the E1, a small electric vehicle with a futuristic exterior and avant-garde interior, it was never intended for sale and was more a concept car created to show BMW’s progress in electric vehicles.

Admittedly, EV technology still had some way to go before reaching the economies we see today, however, the E1 was nimble, weighing in at under 2000 pounds due to its super lightweight body and would have been perfect for city living. Some suggest that the E1 could have been a real challenger to Audi’s ultra-successful A1.

Autocar got the opportunity to test-drive the car way back in 1992 and were more than impressed, saying: "I like it better than any other city car I've tried, not because it runs on environmentally responsible electricity but in spite of it.

"The E1 doesn't have to apologise for its electric motor because it places it in an entirely modern context: it has a great shape, even better space efficiency, a superb ride, crisp handling, a whisper-quiet drivetrain and a truly seamless transmission. Even by BMW standards, it's a hard hitter."

Any pretenses that the E1 was more than idea sadly came to a swift end. BMW’s money men were already concerned at the cost of the project, and with no charging infrastrucure likely to develop, the project was prohibitive. The nail in the coffin came when the prototype burst into flames whilst charging, burning down some of the building with it, and sending the hopes of an EV BMW up in smoke.